The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons is the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime. It entered into force in 1970, and 190 states have subscribed. The treaty covers three mutually reinforcing pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy—and is the basis for international cooperation on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The basic bargain at the core of the NPT is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology. – U.S. Department of State
As of August 2016, 191 states have adhered to the treaty, though North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, following detonation of nuclear devices in violation of the treaty. Four UN member states have never accepted the NPT, three of which are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. In addition, South Sudan has not joined. The treaty recognizes five states as nuclear-weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
Though it is highly unlikely that the world will ever completely rid itself of nuclear weapons, the goal for the past half-century has been to reduce the number in existence and limit any new ones. This is a necessary goal and its fulfillment is crucial to the survival of life on this planet. But today, according to a December 10th article in der Spiegel, other nations such as Germany are contemplating building their own nuclear arsenals.
According to Thomas Graham, Jr., writing for Arms Control Association, “40 countries or more now have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons. If they had all chosen to exploit this capability, it would be impossible to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorist organizations and rogue states.” Graham further states, “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” This has worked well for some 45 years. The U.S. has provided an umbrella to shelter its allies in Europe (most importantly, Germany) and Asia (Japan and South Korea). During the Cold War, U.S. allies could rely on the protection of nuclear deterrence without building their own arsenals.
And then came Donald Trump. For decades, the final line of defense for Europe against possible Russian aggression has been provided by the American nuclear arsenal. But since Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, officials in Berlin and Brussels are no longer certain that Washington will continue to hold a protective hand over Europe. In March and April, Trump made statements such as, “If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.” And “[nuclear proliferation] is going to happen anyway.” Nor would it be so bad, he’s said, if South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons, too. So, even though the current Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has kept nuclear weapons stockpiles relatively low and stable since 1970, Trump comes along and, assuming he knows more than the intellectuals who have worked to keep the planet safe for decades, determines it would be better for the world to go all-out nuclear?
Trump has already announced his intent to withdraw from NATO which he has referred to as being ‘obsolete’, and with his statements about nuclear proliferation, our allies overseas cannot help but wonder if he will also refuse to provide the shield they have come to rely upon. The questions surrounding this issue are far too complex for a blog post, but common sense dictates that we do not need an expanded nuclear arsenal in the world, but at the same time, we certainly cannot remove our promised protections and expect our allies to sit like ducks in a pond without making arrangements for their own protection. Among the biggest fears, as stated earlier, is that the more there are, the more likely they will fall into the wrong hands. I do not think any of us wish to think about Daesh or al qaeda getting their hands on nuclear weapons. Without firm U.S. opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons — a policy implemented through “carrots” like alliances and “sticks” like sanctions — the world would probably have far more than nine countries with nuclear weapons. What’s more, research suggests that nuclear proliferation would reduce U.S. world influence, undermine global stability and increase the risk of nuclear war. Perhaps more importantly, if we let our allies down, we may find that we have no allies.